A project of Catholic Democrats, Catholics For Obama (CFO) was formed to promote the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama in 2008. Noting that “Americans are weary of being pitted against one another over issues of race, disparity of wealth, and religion,” CFO stated that “Senator Obama has made bringing Americans together to solve common problems the central theme of his campaign.” One CFO board member called Obama “a presidential candidate of historic accomplishments,” and lauded his background as a 1980s-era community organizer whose efforts “to [economically] empower the lives of thousands of people” had received vital “funding from the U.S. Bishops.” Obama’s employer in the eighties had been the Chicago-based Developing Communities Project, an initiative of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
According to CFO, Obama’s policy positions on a wide range of issues qualified him as “someone who merits serious consideration by every Catholic voting in 2008.” For example:
- Obama’s wish to “mak[e] health care a right for all Americans” was a view consistent with that of the U.S. Catholic bishops.
- Obama’s anti-war stance and his commitment to “negotiation and other peaceful means to resolve conflicts around the world” were compatible with “Catholic thought on questions of war and peace.”
- Obama’s plan for “allowing undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine and be given the opportunity to become citizen[s]” was both compassionate and practical.
After Obama’s election as President in 2008, CFO continued to aggressively support his agendas.
Though Obama has been an unwavering backer of abortion rights throughout his years in politics—he opposed even the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act as a state senator—CFO says that by the standards of “Catholic Social Teaching,” Obama is technically “pro-life” because he “has spent his entire career striving for the common good.” Specifically, CFO praises the President for supporting “health care programs that will cover all Americans, a living wage for working families, and solutions that allow distressed families to stay in their homes.” Moreover, CFO reasons that Obama’s presidency will ultimately reduce the number of abortions “by promoting health care for pregnant women and better infant care, day care and job training.”
Maintaining that “the state has a positive moral function to promote the common good,” CFO views the expansion of governmental power as a preferred means of solving society’s most pressing problems. For instance:
- To address issues like poverty and income inequality, CFO endorses wealth redistribution by means of a steeply progressive tax structure. The organization likewise favors the expansion of the welfare state, on grounds that “the needs of the poor and vulnerable must come first,” and “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
- To fulfill the imperative that “God’s creation, the environment, must be protected,” CFO calls for the placement of burdensome government restrictions on human industrial activity, which it identifies as the cause of potentially catastrophic global warming. Most notably, the organization supports President Obama’s calls for a cap-and-trade program and heavy investment in “green jobs.”
- Lacking faith in the ability of free markets to equitably determine how much employers in various industries should pay their labor forces, CFO maintains that “workers are entitled to livable wages” mandated and set by the government.
The president and board chairman of CFO is Patrick Whelan, who also serves as president of Catholic Democrats. A member of the pediatrics faculty at Harvard Medical School and a co-director of Pax Christi Massachusetts, Whelan was formerly a national co-director of Catholics for Kerry; he served for three years on the Democratic National Committee’s Faith Advisory Council under Howard Dean; and he volunteered with the Catholic Worker communities in Los Angeles and Houston.
Other CFO board members include:
- Victoria Reggie Kennedy: The widow of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Victoria is an attorney and an activist who has been an official with numerous groups focused on reducing gun violence and restricting access to firearms.
- Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: The eldest of Robert F. Kennedy’s eleven children, Townsend served two years as deputy assistant attorney general during the Bill Clinton administration, and later as Maryland’s lieutenant governor (1995-2003).
- Thomas P. O’Neill III: O’Neill was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1975-1983. Today he is CEO of O’Neill & Associates, a government and public-relations firm in Boston.
- James Roosevelt, Jr.: Formerly the chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Roosevelt currently co-chairs the Rules and By-laws Committee of the Democratic National Committee. He is also president and CEO of the Tufts Health Plan.
- William D’Antonio: This retired professor of sociology was once the CEO of the American Sociological Association.
- Lisa Schare: This Cincinnati-based high-school art teacher serves as state chair of the Catholic Democrats of Ohio. A longtime Democratic Party activist, she did volunteer work for the Clinton/Gore, Gore/Lieberman, and Kerry/Edwards presidential campaigns.